Bosnia Square

in General Discussion edited January 2014

<a href=" local" target="_blank">Bosnia Square</a>

December 9, 2001

By MIKE SWIFT, Northeast Magazine

[quote]It's dusk in Bosnia Square. The men are home from work by now, carrying the shadows of the day in their unshaven faces after hours unloading grocery warehouses and hefting packages at the airport and installing fiberglass insulation into walls. They stand in the parking lot inside the semi-circle of brick buildings, cigarettes hanging from their lips, conferring in Serbo-Croatian as they peer under the hoods of their cars.

Off to the side on a strip of grass that runs the length of the parking lot, the boys are playing tackle football, screaming English in voices manhood hasn't deepened yet, reveling in the consequence-free violence of boyhood as they drive each other into the grass.

"If he touches it, you can knock his ass out!"

"You gotta call 'Mississippi'! It's a blitz!"

On the wooden porches of the brick three-story apartment houses above the parking lot and the football game, the old people suddenly appear, as if from a portal back to Bosnia. Many of the older women still wear dimaja, the baggy colorful cotton bloomers of traditional Muslim women in Bosnia. Often, they are no more than a silhouette in a lighted doorway. They disappear inside so quickly they almost seem to flicker.

It's an autumn dusk in the place that Bosnian immigrants across Hartford know as Bosanska Cetvrt, "Bosnia Square."

In the distance, you can hear the twinkling of a Mister Softee truck, the whine of ambulance sirens, the chopping of the Lifestar helicopter as it lifts from the roof of Hartford Hospital a few blocks away. But those city noises are like distant waves that wash on the shores of this island.

Muradif Patkovic pulls up in his green Hyundai, a sticker in the rear window that reads "God Bless America," the Stars and Stripes fluttering from the radio antenna. He's wearing a T-shirt with the American flag and camouflage pants. He's tired, he says, after a day of warehouse work at C & S Wholesale Grocers Inc. in Windsor Locks. He started this morning at 6, an hour before sunrise, and here it is getting dark again. He's just dropped his wife, Esme, for her 6-to-midnight shift at a beauty supply warehouse across town.

But yeah, he'll talk. He wants to learn English, and nobody his age around here wants to speak anything but the language of Bosnia. Muradif learned Dutch this way during his four years in Holland, by talking to his Dutch neighbors. He plans to do the same with English - somewhere in the suburbs, he hopes.

Back in Bosnia, the Serbs hoped to "ethnically cleanse" Bosnia of Muslims like him. Thousands of Muslims died during the 1990s in a hideous echo of the Nazi genocide of World War II. But Muradif Patkovic doesn't like to talk about those memories. He owes it to his two children, he says, to raise them untainted by all that.

"I will that my children have a new life in freedom," he says in his fractured but enthusiastic English. "Therefore, I must forget everything from past time."

One day at work at C & S, where many other Bosnians work, he put up an American flag for everyone to see.

"Bosnia people, everybody, say, 'Hey, you are no American.' I say, you think so but I think another. I American."

He's felt this way since Sept. 11, the day he saw jets fly into the World Trade Center on television and he felt terror seep back into his world. That night, some friends called him from Holland to ask what he thought about the terrorist attacks.

"With this thing, maybe I [am] like Americans," he told his Dutch friends. "I know what feels now American people, because that sort things I saw in Bosnia. I know what is bomb. I know what is dead people, and kids and so."

In the following days, Muradif began to buy American flags and pass them out to neighbors in Bosnia Square. After the first batch, people asked for more. So he got those, and passed them out. Now the Stars and Stripes fly from many of the cars at Bosnia Square.

Back home, because they were Muslims, the Christian Serbs had killed their mothers and fathers, their brothers and children and cousins and friends. Here, in this chaotic city, in this strange country where they weren't even citizens, they suddenly were afraid that the same thing was going to happen again.

? ? ?

Imagine it's 1920 and you are standing inside the same block of brick apartment buildings near Hartford's South Green that is now called Bosnia Square.

In the same apartment building at 46-48 Dean St. where Muradif Patkovic proclaimed "I American," you would have found a 46-year-old Irish immigrant named Jennie Dunn, a widowed grocery clerk. Life probably would have been hard for Jennie Dunn. Already, her two teenaged daughters had quit school and gone to work - 15-year-old Florence as a telephone operator, 18-year-old Jennie as an insurance company stenographer.

Almost every other adult in the building, according to the 1920 Census, was an immigrant.

John Monaco had come from Italy in 1910, and worked six years before bringing his wife and daughter in 1916. There was Edward Daly, a 46-year-old factory worker from Ireland; George Aszklar, a 27-year-old baker from Poland; Stanley Dobek, 31, a machinist also from Poland...<hr></blockquote>

Lutvija Korkutovic, 9, gives her cousin <a href="; target="_blank">an affectionate slug</a> in the arm.
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